The Cypriot ambassador, a Christian of the Greek Orthodox faith, last week expressed his sympathy over the murder of a Pakistani Muslim politician killed for supporting religious tolerance.
Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades said last week that he planned to sign a book of condolences at the Pakistan Embassy in Northwest Washington. He said he admired Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by a bodyguard after criticizing a death sentence imposed on a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of insulting Islam.
Mr. Anastasiades saw the assassination as another example of a growing intolerance in some Muslim countries toward Christians and their defenders.
While the murder in Pakistan was a case of religious bigotry, a recent Muslim conflict with Christians in Cyprus is an example of political intolerance, he said.
Police in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) last month shut down a Greek Orthodox Christmas service in the village of Rizokarpaso.
"It would be a reprehensible act at any time of year, but at Christmas, it is worse," he told Embassy Row.
The TRNC, recognized only by Turkey, had allowed the service unofficially for years, but police forced priests to stop the latest Christmas celebration by claiming the church failed to seek government permission for the ceremony.
Although the TRNC is technically Islamic, most Turkish-Cypriots living there are not religiously fanatic, TRNC officials have told Embassy Row in the past.
Mr. Anastasiades agreed that the police action was likely the result of a political, rather than a religious, decision made by TRNC officials with the approval or at the direction of Turkey.
The ambassador said the TRNC government took a similar action against another Greek Orthodox church in the village of Agia Triada when authorities rejected a church request for a Christmas Epiphany service.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging Pakistan to scrap its blasphemy laws, after a security guard killed Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer.
"Gov. Taseer had been courageous in his criticism of Pakistan's flawed blasphemy laws, comments which ultimately may have cost him his life," said commission Chairman Leonard Leo.
"His murder sadly demonstrates how the blasphemy law has fueled a culture of impunity that threatens both Muslims and members of the minority religious communities."
Mr. Leo denounced the law as an assault against religious freedom and a threat to Pakistan's "internal security and stability." Mr. Leo added that the commission "extends its most sincere condolences" to Mr. Taseer's family.
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
• President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who meets President Obama.
• Pekka Sutela, principal adviser for monetary policy and research at the Bank of Finland, who discusses Russia's economic forecast for 2011 in a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
• Fouad Hikmat, an adviser on the African Union and Sudan for the International Crisis Group. He addresses the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the independence referendum in southern Sudan.
• Werner Hoyer, deputy foreign minister of Germany, who addresses the Friedrich Naumann Foundation on European relations with the United States.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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